Monday, October 18, 2010

Integration is a Two-Way Street

The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is creating a wave throughout the world with her claims that ‘Germany's attempt to create a multi-cultural society has failed completely’ and ‘by calling on the country's immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values’. This conversation was sparked in great part by a central bank board member who said Germany is being made "more stupid" by poorly educated and unproductive Muslim migrants’.

These statements are dangerous and they are wrong. I am a “foreigner” living and working in Germany and my life proves them wrong.

Before we go any further, let me state clearly that these statements are NOT a continuation of National Socialism. Not. A. Continuation. Germany does have a significant problem in topic integration, and it isn’t alone in Europe, or on the North American continent. These statements could have come from any number of leading politicians; here is one example of racial profiling from the US, my home country.

Now that we have addressed that sticky and omnipresent aspect of anything German, let’s move on. I live in Germany, have done so for almost eight years, and am a foreigner here – so I’m going to share my experience and what I know.

I know that I am not the type of foreigner that Merkel is talking about: I am white. I am American. I am highly-educated. I was born and raised Christian; Catholic to be specific. In other words: I am not dark-skinned. I am not from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. I’m not working in a low-level job. I am not Muslim. I’m not “that kind of foreigner” – and yes, I have been told that by countless people over my eight years, even by some people that I care deeply for and about.

But, I know and have experienced that I am not German. Since I’m not German, I am by default a foreigner. End. Of. Conversation. So, while Merkel isn’t really talking about me – she is. And I’m fucking offended.

For the record, I’m also offended with the following experiences: people telling me that I’m not the “bad” type of foreigner, that they don’t mean me; that I couldn’t possibly have dated a black man, an Asian man, a Columbian man, because I seem like “such a nice girl”; that I better name my children “real” names instead of “pretend” names like Americans; that I was accosted by a stranger while shopping with the accusation that I’m taking away jobs; that I was told by someone who has never lived in my country has the “exact same values” as Germany and refused to listen that, um, no, actually not.

At the same time I’m offended that Merkel and her likes can so easily disregard the progress that has been made in the last almost-eight years. Germany is changing. Here are three small examples from my personal experience and I have a lot more:
  1. Just a few weeks ago at the Mr.’s little village’s festival, I saw groups of people standing together, laughing together, drinking together and those people were of many different ancestries and – more directly said, to make the point completely clear –skin colors, religions, and educational background. That wasn’t the case seven years ago.
  2. While shopping the other day, I almost dropped something when a Muslim woman in headscarf helped me, spontaneous and with a smile. Then we shared a few words in German, then English before we moved into our own lives.
  3. At work, I work with people from all over the world. Almost all of us have a story of active racism against us as individuals – yes, me, too, the “good” foreigner – but we also have far more stories of acceptance, of friendship, of love found. We share these stories, shaking our head at the idea that Germany doesn’t have to change but smiling that it already has.
Yet, all that said, the sad truth, is that many people believe that integration is a one way street, as shown by the demands – not requests – that immigrants “adopt” the German understanding of “Christian values”. The majority don’t see any reason why Germany (them) should change, since they (me) came here (Germany).

But, integration is not a one way street; it goes in both ways. I, the foreigner, get to change and grow, picking up and learning from the positive aspects of my host. Germany, the host country, gets to do the same, picking up and learning from the positive aspects of its new inhabitants, especially those born on its ground to “foreigner” parents. We all get to learn from each other – on our two way street.

So, Ms. Merkel, integration hasn’t failed in Germany. Just your expectations of what integration should look like. I suggest changing your view. Oh, and by the way, you’ll have to change too.



Anonymous said...

I am surprised that there are 0 comments to this excellent post. I too have experienced exactly what you write about in this post. Whether it be the dark-skinned people in front of me at the airport passport control taking 5-10 minutes to get through, when a mere glance at my white skin and American passport gives me the right to enter the county, or to experiencing the conversations about those evil foreigners, only to be told I don't count as a foreigner when I share the offense I feel.

Good post. I couldn't have said it better.


Pickles and Onions said...

thanks so much James! I appreciate the feedback.

While their hasn't been transparent commenting, I don't think I've ever gotten as many emails about a blog post! Its a tough topic; thanks for jumping into the fray!

Steph+Jorg Salomo said...

Excellent post - so well said! I totally agree with your points. Living in country number 6 now, I feel like a foreigner when visiting Germany, my supposed motherland. It is also a great feeling when you can start to feel at home in foreign countries, despite never fully becoming a local.

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